Arrogance to Modesty: The Hardest Journey To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A great man is always willing to be little”. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the oldest epic poem known to man, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, is called to the Trojan War. He leaves his home, thinking that he will be back soon, without realizing that the God’s wrath would prevent him from getting home. Odysseus demonstrates many concepts throughout his journey, but the most prominent is his usage of hubris and humility towards the Gods. The hubris he shows towards the Gods is what fuels their rage and makes his journey longer.
Although Odysseus shows a great amount of hubris towards the beginning of his journey, as he experiences many humbling experiences, his humility increases. Towards the beginning of Odysseus’s journey, he shows a lot of hubris towards the cyclops and his comrades, without realizing the consequences of his actions. When Odysseus and his comrades unnecessarily trash Athena’s temple after the Trojan War, they are thrown off course by the Gods. When they reach the island of the cyclops, Odysseus and his comrades are starving and willing to do whatever they need to in order to get food.
Odysseus and his six best men sneak into the cyclops’ cave. They eat the cyclops’ special cheeses and drink his wine. When Polyphemus (the cyclops) comes back, he realizes that strangers have gotten into his cave, and gets very angry. Odysseus tricks the cyclops into getting really drunk and blinds him. When Odysseus is asked his name (by the cyclops), he says his name is Nobody, so that when the Cyclops screams out, and his neighbors ask who is harming him, he would say Nobody.
Then, Odysseus and his men attach themselves onto the sheep hat needs to be grazed and sneak out. When Odysseus and his men escape, Odysseus, without realizing that Polyphemus is the son of Poseidon, starts bragging. “So they begged/ but they could not bring my fighting spirit round. I called back with another burst of anger, ‘Cyclops-/ ‘if any man on the face of the earth should ask you/ who blinded you, shamed you so–say Odysseus,/ raider of cities” (227 lines 557-562). Odysseus shows hubris towards his comrades by not showing them any respect or considering their warnings not to boast and anger the cyclops.
He still follows through with plans to boast about who he is and his achievements, despite his comrades begging him not to. Furthermore, he shows hubris to the cyclops after breaking into his cave, stealing his food, stabbing him in the eye, and rubbing his defeat in his face. He is unaware that the cyclops in Poseidon’s son, which shows that Odysseus showed hubris to complete strangers at the beginning of his journey. However, as the epic poem advances, Odysseus learns from his mistakes and chooses to show humility instead of hubris to everyone.
Over time, Odysseus learns the importance of humility and starts showing more to the Gods, especially when they reach the island of Helios (the Sun God). This island is home to the sacred Cattle of the Sun. After enduring many hardships caused by the Gods and also by mortals, Odysseus finally gets to the island. Odysseus and his comrades have been thrown off course and are at a loss for resources, the main one being food. Odysseus knows that although it is tempting, eating the Cattle of the Sun would be a lethal mistake. He warns his starving men, and they promise not to eat these majestic creatures.
Odysseus and his men are desperate for food and shelter, so he “struck inland,/ up the island, there to pray to the gods. /If only one might show me [Odysseus] some way home! /Crossing into the heartland, clear of the crew,/ 1 rinsed my hands in a sheltered spot, a windbreak,/ but soon as I’d prayed to all the gods who rule Olympus,/down on my eyes they poured a sweet, sound sleep… ” (281 lines 358-364). After going through all of the experiences that he had gone through, Odysseus knows that only the Gods could help him.
Although Odysseus has finally realized that he has to pray to the Gods, they pour a “sweet, sound sleep” upon him. Odysseus knows that he has to be clear of his crew, so he goes to the center of the island, despite how exhausted and hungry he is to prove to the Gods that he is willing to do whatever it takes to ask them for forgiveness of his s to ask them for forgiveness of his previous actions and find a way to get home. It is very hard for Odysseus to give up his pride and ego, and acknowledge the fact that only the Gods can help him find a way home.
When he finally does pray to every single God and does what he is supposed to, ironically, the Gods still make Odysseus sleep, giving his men time to eat the Cattle of the Sun and anger the Sun God, Helios. Unfortunately, his actions are in vain, but they start to teach him the value of showing humility. Odysseus showing humility towards the Gods was the beginning of his journey of showing humility towards everyone around him. Towards the end of his journey, Odysseus learns to give up his ego, and he realizes that it is also important to show humility to the people that help him.
He especially demonstrates this towards Nausicaa. Odysseus, longing to get home, turns Calypso down in a very tactful way (once again, showing humility) when she offers him immortality in exchange for being her husband. Odysseus leaves her island and undergoes a brutal storm caused by Poseidon, washes up on Phaeacia and goes to sleep in an olive bush. When he wakes up, he sees Princess Nausicaa and her maids playing on the beach. Nausicaa offers to bathe and clean Odysseus up, as well as give him a ride back to her palace.
When they get back to the castle, Odysseus begins to recount his story of how he got to the island of Phaeacia and met Nausicaa to King Alcinous. The King is very mad at his daughter for not showing Odysseus xenia by not giving him a ride to the palace. Odysseus comes to Nausicaa’s defense by saying, “I begged her for help/ and not once did her sense of tact desert her… / She urged me herself to follow with her maids. /I chose not to, fearing embarrassment in fact-/ what if you took offense, seeing us both together? / Suspicious we are, we men who walk the earth. (188-189 lines 334-335 and 349-352).
Odysseus shows humility to Nausicaa and acknowledges her kind actions. Furthermore, he offends himself, by saying “Suspicious we are, we men who walk the earth. “. At the beginning of his journey, Odysseus did not consider himself a mere man, but almost an immortal, however, he downgrades himself for the sake of someone else’s wellbeing. Odysseus’s humility towards Nausicaa is the perfect demonstration of how Odysseus learns to demonstrate more humility towards people as his character develops over his journey.
Odysseus learns about the importance of showing humility towards the Gods and humans over the course of his long, hard journey. Although Odysseus shows a great amount of hubris towards the beginning of his journey, as he experiences many humbling experiences, his humility increases. At the beginning of his journey, Odysseus acts a lot like Gilgamesh. He does not really care about his actions or showing humility to the people he is around. Like Gilgamesh, Odysseus is very entitled, rude, and unpleasant. Over time, however, Odysseus learns to show humility to Gods and humans and Gilgamesh learns to show humility to humans.
Both of these characters seem immortal, surviving unimaginable struggles, but they both learn that these struggles were caused by their own actions, and they come out as better and more humble people. Odysseus’s demonstration of hubris and humility encompasses that of a human. Nobody realizes everything that others do for them, and often mistreats them, but over time, whether their hurdles are big or small, they learn from their mistakes and learn to show more humility and humbleness to the people around them.